So wrong, it’s wrong.

Malverns MTB - July 2011
Is that a happy face?

I have never understood why one week you’re an athletic titan bending the landscape to your will,  the next you’re a fat, old knacker wondering if this is how the end starts.

There is some logic to this I suppose; plausible deniability of the previous evenings’ alcohol content withers in the hard face of the first climb. A frenzied one man attack on anything bottling a fermented grape is merely an aperitif for hindsight.

Malverns MTB - July 2011Malverns MTB - July 2011
A poor nights’ sleep – being only one more in a week of staying awake in the dark – isn’t helpful either. Industrial gardening* wearies muscles, and a wave of unspecified tiredness makes 7am feel like a stupid time to abandon the comfort of your bed.
Malverns MTB - July 2011Malverns MTB - July 2011

The signs were all around me; lethargy when faced with the “stick game” which makes a mad Labrador even happier.  One day I hope he’ll somehow communicate that stereotyping his long “Retriever” bloodline is unfair, and repeated fetching that bit of gnawed wood is so yesterday, Darling. Today was not that day.

Then I put my shorts on the wrong way round. Twice. Picked up the wrong gloves, lost the trailer key, faffed about looking for related stuff and found only excuses. Jezz seemed in similar mood hence a pre-ride cuppa and a chat before riding bicycles became a necessity.

Sometimes it’s just the first climb that hurts. Someday’s you’re a corpse uphill but demonic coming down. Mostly experience suggests you’ll work you way into a ride, and the finish will be far stronger that the start. Today wasn’t one of those days either.

The sun was out warming our clumsy limbs, the trails were grippy after another night of summer rain, we were still early enough to avoid most of the rambling hoards and the bikes were working well. Only thing missing was any semblance of technique, any sign of motivation, any power in the legs and any breath in the lungs.

Malverns MTB - July 2011Malverns MTB - July 2011

All stolen away by the God of Superficial Fitness clearly having fallen out with Bacchus. “Make them suffer, make them suffer some more, do they look like they are enjoying it yet? Yes? Fire up the gradient machine and ratchet up that next climb”.

Malverns MTB - July 2011Malverns MTB - July 2011

It was still good of course. Not as good as the last few rides, but better than many grim death-marches undertaken in the winter. Vegetation has exploded past head height throwing out obstacles that scratch, ping and bite. But the views are fantastic, the being out there so much preferred to being inside, the 650+ metres of climbing triggers a guilt free dead animal breakfast and rests a troubled mind that would otherwise be tortured by missing a ride.

Even when you’re not that keen to go. Said it before – riding is always better than not riding. Next week will be splendid I’m sure. In the meantime, I’ll wield my mighty paintbrush while musing on exactly who nicked my fitness and motivation this morning. Yes, I’m looking at you Mr Merlot.

* Happy gardeners appear to cherish the careful placement and nurture of pretty flowers. The rest of us are left with digging large holes and creosoting anything that doesn’t move. Or move that fast. I’m of the firm opinion that our now wood-stained chicken is not only happy at being fully waterproof,  but also “dark oak” is this years’ Hen colour.

Beacon Run

There is significant pointy geography jutting ever upwards in my riding life. Look over there to Wales with seemingly endless ranges  of sharp peaks – proper mountains – looming over deep valleys.  Closer to home are the muscular Malvern Hills, reaching not so high but still at a straining gradient.

Largely free of mud regardless of season, packed full of rocky, open descents and cheeky hidden singletrack this compact range of lumpy loveliness has much to offer the keen mountain biker.

But it hides a dirty secret.  While the South and North ends are stuffed with trail nuggets, the middle is – let’s be honest here – a bit dull. Hilly, Yes; Interesting, Not really.  Which explains why it’s a bit of a mission to summit the Beacon on the North when starting from the other end.

That and it’s a bloody long way. Not in miles, not even in my newly chosen ego stroking kilometres. Horizontally it’s nothing, vertically however it’s a bit of a monster.   The hills are canted to the North so four grunty climbs are not rewarded with a similar amount of descending. But those four are the quickest way across.*

Quick being a relative term. Quick for me with a level of riding fitness someway below my Winter peak. As I wondered if my lungs were blowing out of my arse, or had already been abandoned on a previous climb I couldn’t help also wondering if a bit less biscuit tin/cheese board/wine bottle action might aid my ascending prowess.**

The descending on offer did more than take a little edge off the gurning glumness even after sufficient rain to make Mayhem more of a nightmare this weekend*** The elbow of increasing articulation may be finally healing but still ignites the mental bushfire on the scary bits. Comes and goes, better bloody go soon tho otherwise I’ll be chopping out the “cowardly gland” with a blunt spoon.

We’d dragged the Beacon closer through application of pedal on gradient, the peak showing itself from various angles. First we’re left of it, then right but always below. Highest point in Worcestershire, made higher by my riding bud’s choice to first descend rather than take the easy way up.

Which provided an opportunity to heckle two slower riders who didn’t seem to find our tailgating inspirational. The Irony card was played once a freak mechanical sidelined me to the side of the trail leaving them to huff past. At which point, Jezz – who is consumed by a Labrador fetch mentality – hunted them down on the next climb.

By the time I finally made it up there, the same two riders were looking seriously pissed off. Which – in my experience – is generally triggered by a large man on an even larger bicycle racing by. A hypothesis confirmed by said rider, sat a little further up the trail, with the subtle manifestations of a man seeing only black spots in front of his eyes.

We scooted off ever upwards in the fading daylight for the traditional “lean the bike against the trig point” which is really bikey sign language for “Thank Christ that’s over, I’m having a proper rest now”.

Even close to the Solstice, our light abandoning decision was beginning to look somewhere between ambitious and foolhardy. Time to go. The Beacon Run is a proper man’s descent. Fast, rocky, occasionally rutted, enlivened by big holes torn out of the track and a level of exposure that would still induce vertigo in blinkers.

Good, fast run down, too late for random walkers diving for cover under the barrage of chain slap ordinance.  Hero line over the big drop, sketchy on the marbles, hold it together and chase that setting sun. All that climbing? Worth every pedal revolution.

Quick conference, time for the long way home we think.  Drop back into the valley before climbing back onto the ridge, but missing a couple of pointless hills. Flat out down the next one, where a quick glance at the GPS shows nearly 60k, and a look out front shows we’re going to beat the fast incoming dark.

Until Jez cases a drop and sacrifices a tube.  Still nice place for a sit while he fixes it. Had it been Winter, I’d have left the bugger 😉 Tired legs propel us gently up the last proper climb opening up my favourite jump followed by my least favourite steps. Survived those, railed the following berm with reactions now perfectly tuned to trail pitch.

Into “Narnia” and into the dark.  Proper dark with the sun setting, we make adequate progress only though trail memory and a sudden desperate belief in ESP.  We hit the only really mud on the final trail link home which is fine because now we really can’t see anything at all, and it’s some manifestation we’re not riding in a cave.

It’s way past 11pm as I wearily roll the bike back into the workshop. I’m a shower and some faffing behind a much needed bed. And in just over five hours the alarm is going to be all loud and spiteful.

Who Cares?

* Unless you choose to ride along the ridge. Which would mark you out as some kind of lithuanism lesbian.

** Probably. But what’s the option? Lettuce? If the day has come that dinner is essentially crinkly water, I’ll need to up my alcohol content somewhat mitigating a salad day.

*** For those racing. Not for those turning up in wellies, grabbing a beer while pointing and laughing.

Trigger’s broom

Triggers Broom

A milestone has passed. Or – now I’ve gone metric to create the illusion of travelling further – a kilometre stone. 1250 of them to be precise. That was the point at which the previous ST4 waggled its twangy arse for the last time, and collapsed into a heap of iron fillings.  The horror of finding the bottom bracket had destroyed the frame by ripping through the internal threads stayed with me right up until Orange admitted it was a bit rubbish and sent me a new one.

The plan for the original bike was to replace my Cove Hardtail so saving the cost of procuring a whole flange of expensive and shiny new parts. This was not entirely successful; within six months everything but the seatpost and saddle had been replaced by the aforementioned new and shiny, and the Cove was brought back from the shed.

Now I’ve replaced the seatpost and saddle. Fiscal irresponsibility sprayed faintly with lazy logic is a dangerous way to approach a web browser. Undeterred that such a part was unavailable from any UK reseller, I went all free market and ordered directly from the Fatherland. Two days later after various helpful emails including “Ihr aktueller Bestellstatus: In Bearbeitung“*, a box bearing clever hydraulics and an fairly eye watering invoice was swiftly transferred onto old trigger up there.

And it’s ace. Being a serial seat dropper, it’s removed the tedious need to dismount and dick about with QRs for a 30 second descent before trying to find the right pedalling position again to prevent ones knees exploding. So most of the time you don’t do it, and that is an exercise in joy limitation. I remember from my skills course Tony pushing the idea of moving down not back, with all the benefits having a low CofG can bring.

So it’s clever. Don’t ask me how it works I’ve no idea. First ride, this was clearly the case with my incessant fiddling taking twice as much time compared to dismount/sigh/adjust seat/get back on. And the marketing boys have missed a trick here – “X Fusion HiLo”? Sounds like a second rate cartoon character.  Since to operate the “drop“, one must reach down and tickle ones’ wedding vegetables before releasing the lever, surely there is scope here for something more manly.

I’m going with “gruntbuster tacklegrabber” which is pretty unbeatable. The rest of the bike is pretty damn good as well. Which considering that most of the time I’m at the business end of the spanners, and it’s been thrown roughly to the ground on a number of occasions is a testament to the robustness of the new frame.

Sure it’s not exactly light for a four inch travel bike. And it’s probably a little bit slack for jedi-speeder wiggly tree action, but the limiting factor by some horizon stretching distance is the rider. As it is in 99% of cases, which is why magazine reviews are informative, generally well written and almost entirely useless. For me, the only thing about a bike that matters is does it put a big grin on your face every time you ride it.

Certainly does. And with the “tacklegrabber” installed, that grin’s going to get even bigger 🙂

* Which I translated as “Congratulation, we’ve shipped your product” or “For information: We’ve annexed the Sudenland”

Done and Dusty.

10th anniversary of the CLiC24 event is done. I am back and still fully capable of independent movement. I am also very, very tired. So here’s a summary of the good, the not so good and the occasionally amusing.

Things that rocked:

1) Atmosphere. Chilled out but superbly organised. It’s a million miles from Mayhem and a million times better for it. Full of happy people having an ace time.

2) Organisation. Astounding – great food, top beers at the bar, ever cheerful marshalls, warm showers, unsmelly loos,  great marque playing top tunes.

3) Course. 30% different and extended. Tougher but better. Fantastic yomp across the moor to finish. Fast, rocky singletrack to start. Engaging twiddly bits in between. Hard on the legs, good for the soul.

4) Charity. Probably should be no#’1. CLiC24 is the only endurance event I’ll ever ride now. Because they’re worth it 😉

5) Team Hardcore Loafing (or Lardcore Huffing as we became) putting in an outstanding first twelve hours before tapering off a bit. I blame the wine.

6) Fitness. Having some. First two laps had a feeling of what being properly fit might feel like. Was reminded how far away from that I am by soloists cheerily passing me this morning having nearly doubled the laps I’d completed.

7) Having an awesome team mate in Nig. Top man, entirely unflappable, strong rider, brings excellent wine which we decanted into plastic glasses. Class.

8) It didn’t rain. OTHANKYOUGOD.

Thinks that sucked a bit:

1) Not full. 100 entries under the 500 maximum. Everyone struggling to fill their events this year. Twice as many soloists than teams so clearly there’s a niche worth mining there for future events.  Cannot understand how Mayhem/Sleepless get so many entries when – in my wildly uninformed opinion – this is a shit load better

2) Er, that’s about it. Pretty chilly for some of the event and bloody windy for all of it. That got a bit old but honestly I’m just whinging on the periphery now.

Al’s round up of stuff that was in chucking distance of funny:

1) Attempting the erection* of the famous Leigh Family Tent/Small fabric country in a 30mph wind in the fading light. Entertainment unbounded for the increasing amused watchers who seem to be pointing and hiding laughing behind their hands. At one point I felt the whole shebang was ready to ascend to the Heavens but we wrested back control providing us with more than adequate loafing space, bar area, sleeping compartments, stove and kettle. This time around we didn’t actually set fire to anything either. Bonus.

2) “Hmmm Beer“. Nig and Al on entering the marquee.

3 “H’mm Cake“. Same, two seconds later

4) “I bet Max Mosely paid more than five quid for this amount of pain“: Al on the massage bed being given a right seeing too by a no nonsense lady who repeatedly told me it was hurting her more than me. Not unless she was stabbing herself in the eye with a fork it bloody wasn’t.

5) “I rode so slowly, I nearly drowned in the watersplash” : Nig succinctly summarises the pace of his night lap.

6) “Those are six inch travel bikes, yes? That’s about the distance you’ve travelled in the last minute, get a bloody move on“: Al on the motivational trail in the best bit of singletrack.

7) “Hear my squeeky brakes? That’s a metaphor for YOU’RE NOT GOING FAST ENOUGH“: More motivational stuff from me. I think it helped. Helped me anyway.

8) “10 laps you say? Solo? Well done” followed by  an urgent whisper “THE ALIENS ARE HERE, SOUND THE ALARM

9) “I am the kind of racing machine that needs constant oiling… get the beers in” overheard in the bar

10) “The sweatiest thing in this tent is my helmet….” pause “I’ll be off for a shower then eh?” domestic bliss in the Parker/Leigh tented village.

I forgot my camera, but many others didn’t even taking time to get a photo of yours mugly. But we were worthy, you can be assured of that. Significantly more worthy in the first twelve hours than the second twelve, but worthy nevertheless.

Thanks for those who sponsored me for CLiC Sargent. You’ve made a happy man very old.

* I believe the correct camping term is “Pitch” but where’s the fun in that?

This. And That.

This:
Black Mountains Loop - April 2011

is one memory of a properly fantastic day in the mountains.

And that has just clocked a 1,000 kilometres without feeling the urge to tear itself apart like the previous incarnation.
Black Mountains Loop - April 2011

And, after beer and sleep. I shall try and write some more about how ace those two things allied with old friends and stunning weather has made my day/week/holiday 🙂

Lush

BlueSmell Ride

Not one of my favourite words. Especially when used to describe an everyday object and/or an attractive member of the opposite sex. Try as I might, it’s hard to improve upon “I tell thee what, tha scrubs up well for a plain lass”*. Honest, hint of northern romanticism and in snogging distance of affectionate. So Lush, rubbish word but entirely appropriate composite of Lust and Dust.

Actually it isn’t at all, that’d be, er, Lust. Or Dust. Never mind, we’ve got this far may as well plough on and ignore my inability to combine two four letter words.  Two rides in the Forest this week – and one more to follow – have raised the bar high for perfect singletrack mountain-biking this year.

This time last year, the country was basically under snow and the bluebells were trapped below that wintry blanket. This Spring of sunshine and no showers has seen them cover acres of Forest, and already they’re wilting back. Best get some sustained viewing from the height of a bike then.

Last night the “Malvern’rs” were treated to a 25k of lust/lush/dust singletrack, most of which was perfectly framed by swaying columns of bluebells.  Since I was mostly route-finding – simply achieved by asked David riding next to me where we were going – out on point with the fellas in close attendance was the default downhill configuration.

Which is all fine, except for the massive distractions of dust whipping off the tyres into eyes entirely focussed on the periphery leaving almost no visual assistance to a brain demanding a little help on the next muscle movement. Flowing, nose to tail, through singletrack is one of the absolutely emotions to explain to those not obsessed by bicycles.

Let’s go with Lush for the moment shall we?

* Not that I’ve ever tried it myself. a) because women are one of the few things on this planet that regularly render me speechless and b) because a hard-swung bit of 2×4 is unlikely to improve my day.

I am an idiot

No, really I am. Stop your protestations right now. Ah, I see by my waving the electronic ear trumpet in the general direction of the Internet, all I’m hearing are a few bored people muttering strong affirmations.

Idiocy is really nothing more than short cuts crashing into brick walls. I’ve always maintained life is fairly agreeable if you are lazy or stupid, with only simultaneous behaviours becoming problematic.  Getting stuff done is actually quite easy for the lazy person; the trick is to sequence start to end whole ignoring those boring and time consuming interim steps.

Such a strategy marks you out as an efficient and busy person who couldn’t possibly be asked to do anything else. Especially if you’ve booked the afternoon for some blue sky thinking*. Only very occasionally does the edifice crumble generally with someone noticing the emperor is playing naked. And at that very point what looked like frenzied competency is laid bare as unstructured idiocy.

Happens to me occasionally. Few examples come immediately to mind; booking a campsite and time off work at the same time but not for the same dates. Commissioning a 4m satellite dish without troubling a structural engineer, and being mildly disturbed when it ripped the top of the building off** Launching blindly into obstacles on fat tyres and receiving fat lips and hospital appointments. That sort of stuff.

After the latest rock-Al interface, a week was barely enough for the elbow to start healing. But experience tells that the mind needs to get back on that horse right now. Otherwise displacement activity fills the riding void; nasty thoughts about how much it would hurt to fall again on that body part, maybe wait another week before getting back out there, stick to the road, trails’ll still be there, etc, et-bloody-c.

So with some trepidation and not a lot of my normal pre-ride enthusiasm, stuff was sorted, bike was given a cursory examination***, – short cuts remember – excuses shelved and clothing donned. Additions were a set of lender elbow pads that made me feel silly and secure in equal amounts. Deletions were anything I’d been wearing the previous week because clearly it was my riding environment rather than my riding ability which had triggered the crash.

In the zone of stupidity now, I took different paths on every level; first a slightly different route choice then stretches in reverse order, bike on trailer not in the truck, light on first then battery, rear shock checked first not forks. I grudgingly accepted the ritual pre-ride cuppa but considered following Jezz’s jokey advice I should run around the car three times to break the hoodoo. Definitely considered it. Idiot I thought. You’d probably think so too.

And it’s nothing to do with being stuck in some groundhog night, stuffed down the same trouser leg of time that ended so badly last time. It is – however – everything to do with finding something else to worry about other than the ‘it shall not be named horror‘ of being too damn scared to ride quickly. Fast is a filter graduated by ability, experience, age and your mates. It means different things to us all, but being less fast and less brave than you were…. now that’s a problem which speaks of slow decay and the end of things.

These are not happy thoughts and they followed me up the first climb. Which I generally put up with as it has a fantastic woody descent that is both fast and furious. It was neither of those things this time around, because Jezz was reigning it in an effort to build my confidence. Damn fine gesture but it didn’t feel good, it just felt slow.

Next climb my phone is ringing and I’m ignoring it. We’re climbing again into the twilight and the horse is waiting for me, steaming and rearing in the middle of the next descent. I’m stupidly nervous, stomach churning and talking myself out of it. Because it’ll still be there next week, I’ll do it then, it’s not a big thing, I’m not going to be somehow diminished by taking a safe course to the side.

Yeah. Right. Lights on, hard to know if to trust night vision or bar mounted lumens. Drop in at 80% of last weeks speed, Christ it’s loose, was it this loose before? Have I got a flat? Oh for fucks sakes just get on with it. Miss an apex and slide close to the trail edge, too slow to ride on instinct, too fast to really be in full control, see rock, give it a pre-huck nod to show I mean business, look away down the trail, anywhere but right in front, relax stiffened muscles and flop over in the manner of wounded seal attempting to make landfall.

Relief floods through muscles – my favourite natural drug second only to adrenaline – and that demon is pretty well exorcised. The rest of the ride was 70% fab and 30% worry about a total lack of flow and smoothness. Last night was about 90/10,  and I never got anywhere near the rock. Been there, done that, got the scar.

I’m an idiot though. From almost the second I hit the ground, insidious worry sat front and centre blocking out what is probably more important stuff. And it was a non event, a million times less dramatic than what’d be playing in my minds’ eye. So stupid, pointless and – if I’d followed those logical steps I’m so keen to launch over – I’d have realised that the fear isn’t the rock, it’s being too broken to do what I love doing at a pace and danger that absolutely defines the difference between being alive and merely living.

Riding last night is EXACTLY why slogging through the Winter makes some kind of idiotic sense. Rock hard trails, dust, cheeky routes, nearly crashing, holding it together, maybe not so fast but a little bit smooth, good friends, happy times. The elbow is still sore, but it’ll heal before my head’s entirely unfettered by thoughts of crashing again.

But consider the alternative. If we’re looking for hoary homilies, you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s taken away. So when the very next person adds their weight to an argument that riding bikes with the definite possibility of hurting yourself is idiotic, I shall offer them some useful advice in return.

Try being an idiot for a while. It rocks.

* which – as slackers everywhere know – means looking out of the window at blue sky and thinking “I wish I was out there

** It wasn’t my building. It wasn’t even in this country. A fair part of the top floor did end up in a Moscow street tho. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I made sure everyone was more than aware of that.

*** So no surprise that the cleaved gear cable and bent mech weren’t noticed until catastrophic gear selection failure half way up the first hill. At times like this, it’s important to appear humble while others with good skills fix your bike.

Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Rock: Mid-Trail, nasty misshapen lump, anchored grimly to a steep and loose descent. Requires avoidance or commitment.

Paper: “Fell off Bike“. Scrawled about four times across two hospitals. Appended with “significant abrasions to right side” and “elbow cut, bone in view

Scissors: “This might sting a bit” says the child-Doctor in her bedside pre-laceration chat.

Post lurgey comes a desperate need to ride. After a week off, the trails are running super fast, so we’re on a speed mission. First descent dispatched in a blur of hip-jumps and mini doubles. Wheels off the ground, bike whooshing through spring-leaved trees, brain some distance behind.

Big grins, bullets dodged. Climb and climb but going well, eight days of not riding fails to spike the fitness balloon of three months solid effort. Feels good to be back in the hills, day fading, bike lights dancing in the twilight, so dry and so fast, going to be an epic.

You go first“. Ego stroked, I go as hard as I dare, sketchy, it’s loose and my brain is still not calibrated for the speed, think about rock step, dither, engage fuck it gland, fail to get a line or a decent pop.

Bad stuff happens. Tankslapper briefly caught, thoughts of redemption founder on second rock, abandon bike calling “turtle” as over bar exit has me wrapping limbs to the inside. Cacophony of bike and rider smashing down the trail. Goes on far too long, roll, roll, roll, miss tree, momentum done, pain starts.

Big one that, you okay” / “Grrr…yes…no..fuck dunno fuckfuckfuck that hurts“. Important stuff works, nothing broken, much scarred. Abrasions run to half a side and most of an elbow. An elbow that has the bone poking out. End of ride then, get up, sit down quickly, feel a bit odd. Babble a bit. Hurt a lot.

Push down steep section then back on bike. So slow, where did the confidence go? Back there in the dirt with some of my skin probably. Road home, can’t quite remember which shifter does what. Did I fall on my head? Might have asked the question more than once.

Driven to Ledbury hospital which is big, clean and open but entirely unpopulated by anyone qualified to stitch me up. No amount of pleading saves me from the ball-ache of Hereford A&E. Refuse further chauffeuring and head homewards with a woozy head full of irritation and angst.

I know the drill. Shower now saves pain later. Sticky Grit has adhesive properties of superglue. Some swearing but it gets done. Double Vodka with a Nurofen chaser. Carol – entirely unflappable as ever – takes over the driving. A&E full of drunks, police and heavily pregnant teenagers smoking endless tabs.

Wait, wait, wait. Bored, bored, bored. Sore as well. Relieved to have swapped bloody and sweaty attire for something cleaner and less gritty. Still small on pleasures, long on fuck all happening when phone alarms me that in five hours I need to leave for London.

Midnight comes, nobody else does for some time. Then it’s us, ten minutes of not much drama, no antibiotics, some brave little soldier action while staring anywhere where the needle isn’t.

Home, wine transfusion, three hours sleep, bastard alarm call, get up very slowly. Driving isn’t any fun. Neither is sitting on a train for three hours typing one handed.

Both infinitely preferable to tube buffeting and eight hours of gentle ridicule and more pain that I’m ever going to show. Someone carelessly knocks my elbow and the world goes fuzzy and soft for a few seconds.

More tube, hide in the corner hoping it’ll be over soon. Fall onto train and fall into bar. Grab a beer and a brace of painkillers.  Worst is over. Bored of “aren’t you too old to be falling off bikes?” no point crafting a reply because they won’t understand, and I don’t care. But I’ll take occasional A&E thanks for asking.

Summary? Riding ragged and fast. It’s going to happen. Could’ve been a whole lot worse – arm, rib or collarbone. I’ll back off not because I want to, but because survival instinct will cut the speed. For a while. Let’s not hope too long. Going to be another week before I find out when the stitches come out.

But roadbikes are going to be fine. Ride to work Friday? I should bloody well think so, if I can attire myself in cycling clothing without excessive chaffing. Bikes you see, like the Hotel California – you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

Buffing the Swingarm Slayer

 

Continuing my homage to Sarah Michelle Geller and her ability to destroy apparently indestructible demons with her bare limbs, here’s my what happens when “optimistic” frame design meets Pyreenean leg. My friend Rob broke this on Friday. Just riding along apparently. I am suspicious though since the very same terrain chewed out the bottom bracket of my old ST4.

So maybe it’s the mountains, or blatant copycatting from Rob or – and I think I’m going with this – not enough welding at the point of breakage. Since we’re quoting movies, let’s go with “We’re going to need a bigger weld”. Luckily Orange are already shipping a new rear end that’ll be precision fitted with another mates Mallet.

It’s mildly amusing that the original ST4 – like this one – was lorded by the MTB press as a fantastic bike that broke the trail-mtb mould. Broke itself more like. The latest one is stiffer, stronger and significantly less flawed. So it’s a bit of a surprise that’s getting a panning from the very same press.

Anyway, the new swingarm shall hopefully get Rob back on the trails soon. That’s TWO bikes he’s broken. If that’s some kind of competition, I’m not playing!

Surrey Hills

I’ve a bit of a problem with that title.  First up: Surrey – twinned with Audi, BMW and Cockage. A problematic combination of manicured county seats, and the fat arsed driving 4x4s who own them.  Then: “Hills” – there aren’t any. Not proper ones anyway. Put them up against a Herefordshire Alp, and they’d be left crying onto its’ brutal shoulders.

I tried – oh God I really did – to balance my chippy shoulder with an evidential pursuit of the actual, rather than cheap shots at the stereotypes.  But dodging only shots of trail side expresso and terribly expensive non moving Mountain Bikes, this proved on the can’t-be-arsed side of difficult.

The centre of Surrey’s self reverence appears to be Peaslake. A chocolate box village serving high teas to the mostly porky, and uncouth mugs of tea at £2 a go. Lots of non riding seemed to be the new all-mountain, with 5k bikes sprawled artfully in what passed as an outdoor photo shoot for “Leisure Activities for IT executives

So tick that pre-conception and let’s move onto the riding. Which I remembered as being woody fun slowed by the buy-first-ride-second tribe.  Not hard, not terribly demanding, kind of trail centre-y with more expensive cakes. A nice day out, but not really proper riding is it?

It is. Oh and then some. 40k later, my legs were dribbly blomonge, my throat coated with dust, my arms wibbly wobbly appendages barely able to clasp a hero’s beer, and everything brainside frazzled to the point of exhaustion.

We rode three hills, first up was  a quick hour up and over Peaslake which 5 minutes in had the kind of steep roll in easily obstacle enough to end your day there and then. 5 minutes later, I was abrading my left elbow having failed to conquer a set of steep, loose switchbacks.

Ten minutes after that,  my bike separation anxiety continued with a head-first punt over a log. No excuses other than over-exuberance, chasing local and all round hardtail-fast-man Nig, and the ever widening gap between confidence and ability.

Of the forested-four, only I was fully suspended with the familiarity of the ST4 over-riding any reason to pull the Cove from hibernation. 50% of the time this was the right decision with trails shot through by roots and dips, the other  50% I wished for a shorter wheelbase and tighter geometry – a base for carving turns and instant line changes.

Still run what you’ve brung, and even with the squish out back and the slack head angle up front,  much fun was to be had blatting lush singletrack, pumping vaguely remembered trails,  wheels pawing for grip and – in seemingly many places – the ground as the terrain dipped and swerved between endless trees.

Cake stop – HOW MUCH? – spot of bleeding, not much sympathy, epic planned under sunny skies. Two further hills to summit; Leith and Holmbury – neither of which would seem to offer the mountainous  terrain most of the still parked bikes were configured for, but challenging nevertheless.

Much as I can already hear the knashing of teeth Gloucester way, the steepness and length of some trails are greater than those in “our” Forest. Or certainly the trails I’ve ridden on. From the top of the tower at Leith hill down to the road is 20 minutes of grinning lunacy. It’s pedally in the middle and at the bottom, narrow (narrower  than my 710mm bull bars a few times) and tight in places, but opening out to  become sweepy and fast. “Summer Lightening” is an awesome trail especially covered in nothing but dust and – latterly – sweat.

As we headed back, Nig had that hollowed out look I’ve oft been associated with.  He saved a bit of energy tho for a final giggle-fest of “Barries” showing us all a clean set of wheels. The trail fairies have breathed on this already fine track, and it’s now a mass of berms, jumps and flat out jedi-speeder waggling between the trees.

It was warm enough to sit outside the pub, but far too hard to sit back on the bikes pedaling to the car park. I was happily knackered and somewhat humbled by just what a fantastic area for riding this is. Amusingly we didn’t really see many riders away from the car parks, other than a flange of ten or so sat waiting at the entrance to the final trail.

So yes I’ll admit there’s a raft of decent riding down in Surrey, especially  if you have dry conditions and a knowledgable guide. I was pondering this as a tosser in an blacked out X5 cut me up for the express purpose of cementing his “total cock” status.

It seems I was only half wrong.